2009 marked the International Year of Astronomy, a global celebration of Astronomy and its contributions to society and culture. Throughout the world, there were special lectures, activities, and projects galore that celebrated the wonderful science of Astronomy and commemorated the 400th year of Galileo Galilei's use of the first telescope. Today I started working on updating the International Year of Astronomy's Observing Guides to be applicable to any future year. For each month, there's a special guide with an overall theme that includes objects to observe, current NASA missions, stories, photos, etc.
When looking at objects to observe in the springtime, I came across this photo of the Whirlpool galaxy, also known as M51. This was the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) image from July 24, 2000. It's a beautiful spiral galaxy, 23 million miles away, and 65 thousand light years across. To put this in perspective, the distance from Earth to the Sun is just 8 light seconds! I couldn't stop staring at this photo; not only is the spiral particularly beautiful in this image, but the interaction with the second galaxy on the left is especially cool.